Revitalizing the Forgotten Uniformity Constraint on the Commerce Power

Employing a straightforward textual reading of the Commerce Clause, which, unlike other constitutional clauses, does not expressly mandate uniform regulation, the Supreme Court has recently declared that Congress is free to enact commercial regulations that apply in some states, but not in others, or that explicitly treat some states differently than others. This Article seeks to call that conclusion into question, and in the course of doing so, to explore the proper roles of history and text in constitutional decisionmaking.

From a historical perspective, the desire for uniformity was both the precipitating factor in the creation of the federal commerce power and a fundamental limitation upon that power. Fearing that Congress would use the commerce power as a means of discriminating in favor of some states at the expense of others, the Constitutional Convention ratified a provision intended to preclude Congress from enacting nonuniform regulations of commerce. For purely stylistic reasons, that provision was ultimately broken into two different clauses: the Port Preference Clause and the Uniformity Clause, but the framers understood those clauses to be one in purpose, and to have the combined effect of categorically prohibiting the nonuniform exercise of the commerce power. 

Because the framers narrowly conceived the commerce power as extending only to the imposition of excises and duties and the regulation of navigation and shipping, their decision to divide the mandate against the nonuniform regulation of commerce into two, more narrowly drawn clauses seemed inconsequential. The Uniformity Clause, which requires all excises and duties to be uniform throughout the United States, and the Port Preference Clause, which precludes Congress from enacting regulations of navigation or shipping that favor the ports of one state over those of another, were sufficient in their day to fully protect against the nonuniform exercise of the commerce power. In today’s world, however—a world in which the commerce power has achieved a drastically broader ambit—if we continue to read the Uniformity and Port Preference Clauses narrowly and literally, and if we fail to imply a general uniformity constraint on the commerce power, then we fatally undermine the fundamental constitutional principle that pervaded the Constitutional Convention that Congress must not be permitted to use the commerce power to favor some states at the expense of others. This Article contends that we should interpret the Constitution in a manner that preserves this fundamental precept and ensures that it remains relevant and vital in the twenty-first century and beyond.

“Happy” Birthday, Brown v. Board of Education? Brown’s Fiftieth Anniversary and the New Critics of Supreme Court Muscularity

Professor Michael Klarman’s book, From Jim Crow to Civil Rights: The Supreme Court and the Struggle for Racial Equality, covers the entire corpus of Supreme Court case decisions concerning race, from the infamous Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896 to Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. Klarman addresses three principal questions: What factors explain the dramatic changes in racial attitudes and practices that occurred between 1900 and 1950? What factors explain judicial rulings such as Plessy and Brown? How much did such Court decisions influence the larger world of race relations? Klarman argues that, in regard to whether state-imposed segregation of the races violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Supreme Court only reconsidered the meaning of the Constitution once public attitudes had already changed. He writes that the Supreme Court “did not invalidate racial segregation until after public opinion on race had changed dramatically as a result of various forces that originated in, or were accelerated by, World War II.” 

This Review explicates the interpretive sweep of Klarman’s book: its treatment of the Jim Crow decades, of the World War II years, of the Brown decision, and of the civil rights movement. It then critically considers Klarman’s overarching argument concerning the Supreme Court’s supposedly minimal role and influence in American politics and society. Lastly, the Review contends that Klarman’s analysis, when understood in conjunction with recent writings by Professors Rosenberg, Tushnet, and Rosen, represents both a potent and a potentially dangerous new political critique of the Supreme Court’s traditional power of constitutional judicial review.

Beyond Statutory Elements: The Substantive Effects of the Right to a Jury Trial on Constitutionally Significant Facts

The Supreme Court’s decision in Apprendi v. New Jersey established a relatively clear rule: The Sixth Amendment’s right to a jury trial places a substantive restriction on legislatures by preventing any fact that has been deemed necessary for a particular level of punishment, either by statute or by constitutional decision, from being subject to judicial factfinding. Specifically, the Court held that the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial requires that any fact (other than a prior conviction) that exposes a defendant to a greater level of punishment be found by the jury beyond a reasonable doubt.

This decision was nominally directed at so-called “sentence enhancements”—facts found by the judge at sentencing that increase punishment beyond the maximum allowed by the underlying statute. Some scholars have expressed concern that legislatures, deprived of the use of the increasingly popular sentence enhancements, would redefine their criminal codes so as to avoid the new Apprendi requirement by simply raising the maximum penalty authorized by the underlying statute. The judge could then use this greater discretion in sentencing to inflict the higher level of punishment desired. In light of this fear, there has been a revitalized effort to understand the boundaries that the Constitution places on the substance of criminal law.

This Note argues that the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial, as explained in Apprendi, places a substantive restriction on legislatures by requiring that any fact deemed necessary for a particular level of punishment, either by statute or constitutional decision, be treated as an element of the crime.